Sangamon Co. judge temporarily halts Pritzker’s school mask mandate; governor vows appeal

A sign in the hallway at Littlejohn Elementary School in DeKalb reminds students to wash their hands.

A Sangamon County judge issued a temporary restraining order late Friday that could disrupt Gov. JB Pritkzer’s school mask mandate – a measure that required the use of a face covering indoors in all Illinois schools since August because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pritzker released a statement hours later promising to appeal the decision from Sangamon County Circuit Court Judge Raylene Grischow. Grischow ruled that the governor’s emergency order was “deemed null and void,” according to a report from Capitol Fax.

The judge’s order also halts requirements under Pritkzer’s mandate, which stipulates those who are not vaccinated must submit to weekly COVID-19 testing in schools, according to Capitol Fax, or be barred from school buildings if they’ve been exposed to the virus.

In a statement, Pritzker vowed swift action to appeal the restraining order through the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.

“The grave consequence of this misguided decision is that schools in these districts no longer have sufficient tools to keep students and staff safe while COVID-19 continues to threaten our communities – and this may force schools to go remote,” Pritzker said in the statement. “This shows yet again that the mask mandate and school exclusion protocols are essential tools to keep schools open and everyone safe.”

Pritzker imposed an indoor mask mandate for schools in August following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends “everyone in K-12 schools should wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students and visitors, regardless of vaccination status.”

The governor’s order at the time was issued as the delta variant spread throughout the country and schools looked for students to return fully in person for the school year.

Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul said in Pritzker’s statement that his office remains committed to defending the governor’s actions and will appeal Grischow’s decision to the Illinois Appellate Court.

“This decision sends the message that all students do not have the same right to safely access schools and classrooms in Illinois, particularly if they have disabilities or other health concerns,” Raoul said in a statement. “The court’s misguided decision is wrong on the law, demonstrates a misunderstanding of Illinois emergency injunction proceedings and has no relation to the record that was before the court.”

A significant number of parents and more than 100 Illinois schools are involved against Pritzker’s order.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Greenville attorney Thomas DeVore, who has unsuccessfully challenged the state’s COVID-19 mitigation measures in several other lawsuits.

Many argued the order overstepped the governor’s powers of office and infringed on personal freedoms. When he announced the order, the governor said it was meant to slow the spread of the virus and keep others with significant health concerns in and out of schools safe from serious illness.

It’s unclear whether the temporary halt to Pritzker’s school mask mandate will apply to all Illinois schools or just the ones attached to the lawsuit. It also is unknown whether appeals will be made against Grischow’s order, as has been done in the past.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.